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Successful home opener launches UWRF Women’s Hockey into a promising season

November 9, 2016

The number two ranked UW-River Falls Women’s Hockey proved they belong in the national championship discussion as they dominated Bethel 7-1 and took down eighth ranked St. Thomas 2-1 in their opening home stand this past weekend.

The Falcons opened up their first game at the newly renovated Hunt Arena with a rematch against Bethel, who they beat 4-0 the previous weekend. The Bethel Royals weren’t intimidated from the start though, scoring a goal only four minutes into the first period on a goal by Sarah Moy.

“That was a mistake on our part and we had a defensive breakdown,” Head Coach Joe Cranston said. “That happens a lot before you can establish momentum. If they do score it’s going to be an early one while they still think they can beat you.”

That confidence from Bethel was steadily worn down as the first period went on. UW-River Falls outshot the Royals 17-6 in the first period but couldn’t cash in on their first power play after the goal was taken off the board. But at the 17 minute mark Dani Sibley set up Bella Wagner on the power play for her first goal of her Falcon career to even up the game at 1-1.

UWRF came out controlling the pace in the second period and looked like the more confident team on the ice. Only three minutes into the period, Jessie Anderson scored off of an Ashley Effertz assist that gave the Falcons a lead they wouldn’t let slip the rest of the game.

The Falcons outshot the Royals 19-4 in the second period and ended up shooting 53 times compared to Bethel’s 13. Another goal on the power play, this time by Hailey Herdine, pushed the lead to 3-1 as the game began to get out of hand.

“We just wore Bethel down. Halfway throughout that second period they kind of ran out of gas and we definitely dominated that game,” Cranston said.

Goals by Carly Moran, Dani Sibley, Amy Auren and Bella Wagner led a complete Falcon effort in the third period against a tired Bethel team. The final score of 7-1 was definitely a statement for the Falcons as they prepared to play a top 10 opponent the following night.

The defense was a big part of the UWRF win, with the Falcons allowing less than one goal per game so far on the season. Freshman forward Bella Wagner, who had two goals on Friday, was quick to credit her defense for their performance.

“Our defense has a lot of upperclassman, and they’ve been really strong leaders for us this year. Honestly they don’t give up anything and are really good at both ends of the ice,” Wagner said.

The Falcons are also on pace to score more goals shorthanded than they’ve allowed when their opponent is on the power play. Their plus two goal differential is a telling sign for the success of the team.

UWRF came back the following night for a tight top 10 matchup against the Tommies of St. Thomas. The first period was full of opportunities for the Falcons, but they couldn’t manage to find the back of the net. Letting the Tommies hang around would be dangerous for UWRF as the game progressed.

“If we would’ve buried our chances early on we could’ve been up three or four goals in the first, but instead we kept putting them into the goalie’s chest,” Cranston said.

Wagner continued her big weekend with a goal in the second period to finally open up a lead against the Tommies.

“It took us a while to score that first goal, but once we scored that goal we were more relaxed and started getting more shots on net and finding each other in open space,” Wagner said.

The Tommies fought back as they scored their only goal of the night less than a minute into the third period. They wouldn’t hold the lead for long, as UWRF continued to take advantage of the power play as Carly Moran scored her fourth goal of the year to give the Falcons a 2-1 lead with 17 minutes remaining in the game.

The game was tense down to the wire, but UWRF controlled the puck by outshooting the Tommies 16-3 in the closing period. The Falcons managed to come away with a big 2-1 win in a solid learning experience for the team.

“We just kept working hard and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. We played a pretty smart game, which is pretty good for having a lot of young kids in the lineup,” Cranston said.

With the win, UWRF improves to 3-0 on the season as they travel to UW-Stevens Point for their first WIAC game of the season on Friday, Nov. 11. Falcons players and coaches know that the season really starts with their WIAC matchups.

“It’s a whole different ballgame when you get into conference play, and Stevens Point is a really tough team to beat in their barn. We’ll have to play better than we have to get road wins in our conference,” Cranston said.

UWRF has started slow in past seasons, but seems to have the kind of energy and momentum to keep its winning streak rolling early in the year. A strong performance against its WIAC foes will only breed confidence as the season progresses towards the ultimate goal of another championship opportunity.